Visita Iglesia is one of the many Catholic traditions brought by the Spaniards almost 500 hundred years ago when they colonized our country.

With 86% of the Filipino population being Roman Catholic, it is no surprise that we have breathtaking churches with stellar architecture, all within our three main islands: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. As the Catholic tradition dictates, one must visit 14 churches to complete the prayers for the 14 Stations of the Cross. Here are some churches worth the visit, from Batanes to Jolo:

#14: Rizal – Morong Church

Also known as St. Jerome Parish Church, this church was built through forced labor during Spanish colonization. The stones were from a hill called Kay Ngaya, lime from the mountain Kay Maputi, and the sand and gravel from the Morong River.

#13: Isabela – Tumauini Church

Originally made of light materials, San Matias Parish Church, or the Tumauini Church, was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines. One of the few Baroque Churches in the Philippines, it has been considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been on the tentative list since 2006.

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#12: Cebu – Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Founded in 1599 and considered one of the oldest parishes in Cebu, the Church is named after the town’s patron saint. It is admired for its byzantine architecture, Greco-Roman altar, and twin-bell towers that mimic a minaret shape akin to Muslim Mosques.

#11: Ilocos Sur – Sta. Maria Church

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion is another baroque Church in the country. It was built on a narrow hill overlooking the town proper. It’s façade is bare, and blocked by a bridge linking the church to the nearby convent.

#10: Quezon – Antimonan Church

The Our Lady of Angels Parish, also known as Antimonan Church, was hurriedly built during the 16th Century. Bombed during WW2, the structure that now stands has been reconstructed and finished by townspeople, including the 6-tier bell tower.

#9: Albay – Daraga Church

Nuestra Señora de la Porteria,  also known as Daraga Church, is found in Albay. Built by Franciscans in 1772, it was renovated after WW2 using a mix of Renaissance Gothic and Mexican Baroque styles. The National Museum of the Philippines listed the church’s eastern and western façade, belfry, and baptistry as a National Cultural Treasure in 2007.

#8: Batanes – Mt. Carmel Chapel

Opened only to the public beginning May 3, 2008, the chapel stands on top of a hill giving a view of mesmerizing sights to behold. Also known as Tukon Chapel, in which tukon is an Ivatan term for “mountain”, which seems to be befitting of the church, as it stands in perfect view of the land below Mt. Iraya.

#7: Ilocos Norte – Cathedral of Sta. Monica

Also known as Sarrat Church, this is considered the biggest church in Ilocos. Made of red bricks fashioned into Baroque and Neoclassical architecture, it has a three-level brick bridge and staircase that connect the church to the convent. The bell tower that was once damaged during an earthquake is now fully restored.

#6: Batangas – Transfiguration Chapel

Known as the Caleruega Church, it is noted as the most photographed part of the Caleruega Retreat Center. Also known as the Hilltop Chapel, it is actually a replica of the original chapel of the Dominican Order in Caleruega, Spain. It is one with nature, as its surroundings have koi ponds, plants and trees of different species, and even a hanging bridge for retreat-goers to maximize in exploring the vicinity.

#5: Sagada – The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

It’s simple and serene as it stands along the Echo Valley trail. The very church represents the particular resilience of the people who helped rebuild it after storms hit and devastated the town of Sagada.

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#4: Iloilo – San Joaquin Church

Largely known for its pediment featuring a military scene, the church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines. Notable are its three retablos of limestone, the carved pediment featuring the folk portrayal of the Spanish winning over the Moors in the Battle near Tétouan, Morocco. It is said to be “second only in magnificence” to that of Miagao Church.

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#3: Cebu – Simala Shrine

Blessed with history and countless churches, Simala is said to be a place of miracles. A shrine for the works of Mother Mary, the church is home to letters of thanks from its visitors.

#2: Bulacan – St. Andrew Kim Tae Gon Shrine

The shrine is dedicated to a Korean priest who sought refuge and studied the Dominican Order in Lolomboy, Bulacan, then got arrested and killed once he returned to Korea for practicing his ministry. The place resembles traditional temples and the atmosphere in Korea, thus gaining the attention of local tourists. There are Korean nuns and priests who help run and facilitate the place, and also create souvenirs which they sell as their means of livelihood.

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#1: Cagayan – Callao Cave Chapel

It is the main attraction of Peñablanca’s Callao Cave and their seven chambers. Called the Divine Room, it has natural sky light coming from its 160 foot-high opening, complete with altar and pews. It is only one cave out of 300 that surround the area. Locals say that it is allowed to serve weddings: If and only if the groom carries the bride through the 187 steps of the cave prior to the ceremony.

The Philippines is definitely rich in tradition, thus bringing about creative ways of creating a variety of churches. So this Holy Week, let us admire our own, and visit these beautiful and world-class churches within our own country!

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